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Eagle’s comeback cut short by the Trojans

Story and photos by Heather Stone | Brewton Standard Sports Writer 

W.S. Neal’s comeback season ended Friday night in round two of the Class 3A playoffs with a 21-42 loss at home against St. James. The Eagles finished the 2022 season with a 7-5 record (5-2 in the region), after an 0-10 season in 2021. The Eagles haven’t won 7 games since 2015 (8-3) and haven’t won a playoff game since 2017.

The St. James Trojans won the toss and chose to receive the kickoff to start the game, taking possession on their own 49-yard line. A short run and three quick passes later, and the Trojans scored with a 15-yard pass, taking the lead early 7-0 with just over a minute and a half having ticked off the clock. 

The Eagles began moving forward on their first possession, but a sack for a 13-yard loss put them behind the sticks and forced a punt just two plays later. Then Neal’s defense held St. James to a gain of only 10 yards on the next six snaps, resulting in a Trojan punt. 

Senior Lakietric Barnes returned the punt about 10 yards, giving the Eagles the ball on their own 28-yard line. A 61-yard trek down the field by senior Kevin Farrish set the home team up for a nine-yard run into the end zone by junior Carter Hodges just two plays later. Freshman Sedrick Samuel’s kick sailed through the uprights to tie the game 7-7 with 4:44 to play in the first quarter. 

St. James needed the rest of the quarter to move down the field making small gains on each play, except for a sack by Neal senior Kameron Capterville for a five-yard loss. Then number five for the Trojans broke free for a 33-yard gain, brought down by the Eagles on the one-yard line. Number five pushed through the defense and across the goal line on the next snap, giving the Trojans back their lead 14-7 with 11:34 left in the second quarter. 

A couple of good runs by Hodges and Farrish would not be enough for the Eagles to overcome two five-yard penalties, so they punted the ball back to St. James seven plays after the series began. 

The Trojans, unable to make much headway with the run game, managed to connect on a 76-yard touchdown pass, increasing their lead to 21-7 with just over eight minutes left to play in the first half. 

Neal chose to punt on a fourth-and-10, and that punt was returned 70 yards for a Trojan touchdown, giving them a 28-7 lead with 5:45 on the clock in the second quarter. Neal made some progress on their next possession, but a couple of incomplete passes led to another punt. Ten plays later, a 10-yard pass gave St. James another score, going up 35-7 just one minute from halftime.

When the teams returned from the locker rooms, Neal received the kick to start the third quarter, but punted the ball away six plays later. St. James made quick work of the sixty yards they needed for their final touchdown of the night on a 29-yard pass, increasing their lead to 42-7 with almost nine minutes left to play in the third quarter.

The teams traded punts through the rest of the third quarter and into the fourth before junior Jaylen Williams forced a Trojan fumble that was scooped up by Barnes and run back 26 yards to St. James’ three-yard line. Two snaps later, Samuel pushed two yards and over the goal line for another Eagle touchdown. A wonky snap on the PAT led to a failed kick, but the Eagles improved their score to 13-42 with 6:64 left to play in the game. 

The Trojans were unable to gain any yardage thanks in part to a tackle for loss by junior John Andrews, and a sack for a loss of six yards by senior Johnathan Carter. St. James turned the ball over on downs, and with a new quarterback, freshman Zack McCants, in the game, the Eagle offense went to work. Z. McCants handed the ball off to Samuel who bulldozed his way to a 22-yard gain. Additional runs by Samuel and sophomore Quayveon McCants moved the Eagles down the field, setting up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Z. McCants to fellow freshman Calvin Gaines with 23 seconds left in the Eagles’ season. Samuel’s PAT was good, making the final score Neal 21- St. James 42.

The Eagles put a total of 251 yards of offense on the board, 191 yards rushing and 60 yards passing. St. James ran for 162 yards and passed for 195.

Farrish led the Eagles with 95 yards rushing followed by Samuel with 42 yards and a touchdown. Caleb Peters led the Eagles with 21 yards receiving, followed by Gaines with 15 yards and a touchdown, and Tylon Harrison with 12 yards. 

Head coach Hugh Fountain and his team will take the progress made this year and continue to build on that for the future. “We’ll be able to use a lot of the things that we did this year toward positive growth next year,” Fountain said. “In any football season there are positives and negatives, no matter what your record is, and what we’ve got to do is go back and draw from the positive and use that as we try to build our program. That’s what we’re in the process of doing,” he concluded.

Scores and stories from around Central Alabama. More than just a sports Article.

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